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Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Try this Grace Blends drink, which is a sorrel-based functional beverage that combines the flavour and nutritional benefits of a range of fruits, roots and vegetables with the antioxidant-rich sorrel extract.- Contributed photos
Northern Caribbean University's sorrel researchers, from left: Patrice Williams-Gordon, Dr Paul Gyles, and Dr Juliet Penrod, who are responsible for finding out that three varieties of sorrel grown in Jamaica could be the treatment or cure for certain types of cancer (laryngeal and lung), enjoying a day out on a sorrel farm in Oaks, Clarendon.
A Sorrel fruit
Sorrel farmer, Alvin Smith (right) and Northern Caribbean University sorrel researcher, Dr Paul Gyles, taking a closer look at the sorrel that grows all year round, during the Grace Blend sorrel tour at Oaks, Clarendon, on Monday, February 15

Keisha Shakespeare-Blackmore, Staff Reporter

or decades, sorrel has been a major part of the Jamaican Christmas tradition, as the sorrel drink is the choice beverage of the season.

However, the fruit has gained international recognition for its medicinal and nutraceutical benefits. In 2000, researchers Dr Juliet Penrod, Patrice Williams-Gordon and Dr Paul Gyles at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU) in Mandeville, Manchester, discovered that the three varieties of sorrel grown in Jamaica could be the treatment or cure for certain types of cancer (laryngeal and lung). The team at GraceKennedy Foods has also found proof that the sorrel plant is very beneficial.

So, in an innovative Caribbean response to the global ready-to-drink beverage category "Functional Drinks", GraceKennedy came out with Grace Blends, a range of sorrel-based beverages combined with other nutritional fruit juices.

The launch of Grace Blends last year, and the partnership with the NCU research team, was the starting point to a shift in the sorrel paradigm from 'Christmas drink' to nutrient-rich wellness beverage that may be consumed all year round. A memorandum of understanding between Grace and NCU was also created to facilitate the sharing of information, research and support in the promotion of sorrel and Grace Blends products.

Big bang tour

Fast forward to Monday, February 15 when GraceKennedy Foods hosted the Grace Blends Sorrel big bang tour to a sorrel farm in Oaks, Clarendon. A team of local journalists, GraceKennedy representatives and the NCU research team set out to Oaks where they met sorrel farmer, Alvin Smith.

Smith has been farming since he was 10. Growing up in the small community of Morant District in Clarendon, both his parents, Edward and Constine Smith, were farmers. His parents cultivated oranges, peas, sugar cane, pumpkin, tomatoes, bananas and coffee. As such, it was only natural that he followed in his parents' footsteps. Thus, 20 years ago, he began his sorrel farm. He also cultivates other crops such as oranges, peas and vegetables, as he said that one couldn't survive on one crop only.

Smith operates his farm on four acres of land, where he employs up to eight people during harvest time and about four in the off-season. But more importantly, Smith manages a small network of sorrel farmers in neighbouring communities Rock River, Crawl River, Cross Hill, Oaks and Morant, as well as farmers in St Elizabeth.

Ongoing drought

In addition, he has been a sorrel supplier to GraceKennedy through Virginia Dare Jamaica Ltd for the past 10 years. Traditional sorrel plants only bear fruit once a year but the sorrel that the Clarendonian produces bears all year round. However, things have not been so fruitful for Smith for the past year due to the ongoing drought.

"That is why I have to plant other crops because I still have to have an income and I still have to eat," said Smith.

On the other hand, Smith said he is counting his blessings, as he does not really have a problem with praedial larceny.

Also during the tour, the NCU team expressed that the ongoing research which they believe has propelled international interest in the plant, brings about a sense of pride to Jamaica.

Following the sorrel farm tour, guests travelled back to Kingston, where they got a first-hand look at how the Grace Blends are made at the Grace Food Processors canning facility in Three Miles, St Andrew. The day ended with a reception at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.